Kellaway’s Sound Opens New Age of Blending Jazz, Classical

<i> Zan Stewart writes regularly about music for The Times. </i>

Roger Kellaway laughs openly when he says he could be the father of New Age music, the genre that supposedly popped up in the late ‘70s, founded by such artists as guitarist Will Ackerman and pianist George Winston.

But, in the early ‘90s, when A & M Records reissued “The Roger Kellaway Cello Quartet”--the lyrical, unique work that Kellaway, cellist Edgar Lustgarten, bassist Chuck Domanico, percussionist Emil Richards and others initially recorded for the label in 1971--the CD wound up in the New Age bins in record stores.

Indeed, the music of the Roger Kellaway Cello Quartet is hard to pigeonhole. The band’s lush, sonorous offerings blend jazz, chamber music and sumptuous melody and do not fit easily into any classification, defying the categorization on which most record company marketers, radio programmers and consumers depend.


“A & M didn’t know what to do with that CD reissue,” said Kellaway, 53, who debuts his new sextet, the Hands of Time, Friday at the Jazz Bakery in Culver City. “The label didn’t know what to do with it” when the LP was initially released two decades ago either, he said.

The Cello Quartet performed and recorded until 1979, when Lustgarten died.

The group made three recordings--two for A & M and one for Discwasher Records (all now out of print). The ensemble also mounted selected performances, mostly in Southern California. But during its brief lifetime, the quartet was highly respected and attracted die-hard devotees.

“In my travels, I have met fans of that music from all over the world who want to know when I’m making my next cello record,” Kellaway said.

Lustgarten’s death also brought an end to the Cello Quartet. “I loved Edgar, and I was so emotionally distraught at his death that I couldn’t continue the idea of the quartet. I couldn’t stand to hear anyone else play the music,” Kellaway said.

A chance encounter with cellist Yo-Yo Ma in 1986 changed his mind. Ma appeared with violinist Stephane Grappelli at the latter’s 80th-birthday concert at Carnegie Hall, with Kellaway as musical director. Ma and Kellaway developed a relationship, and it revived the pianist’s interest in performing with a cellist. He presented his “Endless Light” for piano, violin and cello with Ma at New York’s 92nd Street YMCA, and started writing new music for a group similar to the Cello Quartet.


That group is the Hands of Time, which features original quartet members Kellaway, Domanico and Richards as well as percussionists Bob Zimmitti and Joe Porcaro. The cellist is Fred Seykora, who occasionally subbed for Lustgarten in the ‘70s.


“There’s something about accompanying the cello that makes me feel so good,” Kellaway said. “I always wanted to blend cello and piano, but I wanted to do it my way. I didn’t want to play Brahms.”

Kellaway’s primary compositional influences are Igor Stravinsky for putting “sounds together in an exciting way” and Karlheinz Stockhausen for his “particular theatricality.” The selections heard Friday, which will be recorded for Angel Records and may be released in late fall, won’t be that far away from the music played by the Cello Quartet, he said.

“This music has that chamber-music quality. It utilizes jazz, there’s lots of melody, some odd-time signatures and various ethnic percussion colors,” said Kellaway, who lives in Inglewood with his wife of 28 years, Jorjana.

As Lustgarten did with the Cello Quartet, Seykora will play most of the tune’s melodies for the group, with the leader handling the solos, though he won’t be soloing on every number.

“I’m pleased to be part of this music, and it’s not important for me to figure out how many solos I have,” he said. “Rather, I want to see the music evolve for an hour or so, see what that’s about.”

Ruth Price, owner of the Jazz Bakery, will nonetheless anticipate the now-and-then improvisation from the leader, who has said that pianists from Fats Waller to Keith Jarrett have drawn his attention.


“Roger’s an uninhibited pianist, which means he’s spontaneous,” Price said. “He’s not perfect, but he’s also not hung up with being perfect.”

Kellaway started piano at age 7, and knew five years later that he wanted to make music his career. “I was listening to George Shearing play ‘I’ll Remember April’ and it was speaking to me,” recalled the artist. “It was then the mixture of jazz and classical began.”

Kellaway has had a bountiful career. He has studied at the New England Conservatory of Music, performed with Sarah Vaughan, saxophonist Zoot Sims, had a composition presented by the New York Philharmonic, written film scores and won a Grammy--in 1988 for best instrumental arrangement for the suite “Memos From Paradise,” recorded by clarinetist Eddie Daniels.


He continues to perform as a jazz pianist. His most recent album is “Roger Kellaway Meets the Duo: Guitarist Gene Bertoncini and Bassist Michael Moore” on Chiaroscuro Records.

As far as the Hands of Time being a New Age group, Kellaway smiles, then laughs. “But beyond the humor,” he says with seriousness, “the reality is, ‘Wait a second, there’s a market for me.’ I can go to jazz, classical, New Age. We’re building multi-marketing.”

Roger Kellaway debuts the Hands of Time at 8 p.m. Friday at the Jazz Bakery, 3221 Hutchison Ave., Culver City. $20, refreshments included. Call (310) 271-9039.